The best season in the history of the Kodiak High School baseball program was in 2004. The team went 17-0 and captured the school’s only hardball state title with an extra-inning victory over powerhouse Chugiak.
Months later, seven players off that historic team made more history. The group captured the Little League Senior state title — the island’s first Little League championship since the 1982 Major All-Stars’ incredible run that ended two victories shy of the Little League World Series.
The accomplishments of the 2004 Little League team is overshadowed by the high school’s perfect season. Even Rick Langfitt — the coach of both those squads — assumes most sports enthusiasts are referring to the high school team when the 2004 state title is brought up in conversation.
“I thought you wanted to talk about the high school team,” said Langfitt when I called him earlier this week. “That (info) is in a different box. Nobody ever wants to talk about that Little League team. I’ll do my best without the notes for that.”
Langfitt retired after the 2012 high school baseball season after coaching baseball on The Rock for nearly two decades. He has boxes filled with scorebooks and memorabilia for every year he coached tucked away in his home in Wisconsin. One of those boxes is crammed with newspaper clippings from the summer of 2004.
That summer, Kodiak’s senior Little League boys spent three weeks away from the island, collecting District I and state championship titles along the way. The journey ended for the 11 players at the Pacific Northwest Senior Division Little League Tournament in Missoula, Montana.
With no American Legion baseball program in Kodiak at the time, the Little League All-Star team was stocked with 15- and 16-year-olds that carried the team to an 8-3 record that summer. Many of those players had won previous District I titles.
Since most of the players were on the high school team, the Little League regular season consisted of just 12 games, while Langfitt divided the players for each game. He brought two sets of uniforms to the field and collected them after the final out was made.
“When you get off-island, they (the players) have a hard time rising mentally to that challenge of competing because they just assume the kids from Anchorage are better,” he said. “We had gotten past that with our success … they had that confidence, competitiveness and determination that they thought they could compete.”
Kodiak — behind the bat of Stuart McFarland and the arm of Mark Putney — went 2-2 and placed third in the double-elimination tournament that featured state champions from Montana, Idaho, Hawaii and Washington.
The group was two wins away from advancing to the Western Regional in California.
The trip to Montana got off to a rocky start when Rick’s wife, Diane — the only other chaperone — nicked a post while backing up a 15-seat rental van in a parking lot.
“Stuart is sitting in the back and said, ‘Mrs. Langfitt, you just crashed,”’ Langfitt said. “Diane still remembers that story to this day.”
The minor accident didn’t keep Kodiak from attending the welcoming party.
“The kids from Hawaii brought all kinds of pineapples and Hawaiian food — they were the stars,” Langfitt said. “We had Alaska pins — we didn’t bring a lot because we didn’t go back to Kodiak.”
Getting to Montana was not a home run. After romping through four District I tournament games by a combined score of 49-3, Kodiak had the difficult task of beating Sitka in Sitka for the state title.
And they did, taking two out of three from the hometown team — defeating former MLB draft pick pitcher E.B. Crow 3-1 and 7-5.
Putney — Kodiak’s ace right-hander who, as a sophomore, went 6-0 with a 1.08 ERA during the high school season — was on the mound for both victories. The future George Fox University star fanned 12 in the opener and seven in the clincher.
In the final game, after getting trounced 14-3 in Game 2, the Bears fell behind 4-3 in the fourth.
Kodiak tied the game at 4 in the fifth when Michael Odell scored on a bases-loaded walk and then took the lead for good when Jeremiah Olson scored an error in the sixth.
Kodiak added insurance runs in the seventh via a run-scoring double from Matt Windnagle and an RBI-single from Paul McFarland.
Windnagle, who started his baseball career in the Sitka Little League, was the offensive star, going 3 for 4 with four RBIs.
“The people in Sitka were happy to see Matt come back, but were disappointed that he helped us beat Sitka Little League,” Langfitt said.
That win in front of 250 Sitka fans sent Kodiak packing to Montana.
“The Hawaiians and the Alaskans drew the biggest crowds and had the most people wanting to talk to us,” Langfitt said. “It was a big deal.”
Langfitt noted that Kodiak was featured on a Montana newscast, and the reporter said, “wow, they really grow them big in Alaska, just like bears and mosquitos.”
In the opener, Stuart McFarland pitched Kodiak to a 5-4 win over host Montana. He followed with a 3-run home run to propel the islanders past Idaho 9-5.
Windnagle also blasted a 3-run homer, which gave Putney a 9-0 lead. Putney struck out 10 and walked three.
“Putney had his fair share of strikeouts, but nobody ever made good contact against him,” Langfitt said. “More importantly, he didn’t walk anybody, and that was a philosophy of mine.”
Kodiak lost the next two games, 16-0 to Hawaii and 11-7 to Washington.
Kodiak outhit Washington 13-10 but was unable to dig out of an early 7-0 deficit. Stuart McFarland, on two days’ rest, pitched the entire game and added a home run. Windnagle, a Coast Guard kid who moved off the island after this tournament, also hit a round-tripper.
“If you took the Hawaiians out of that thing, we could compete with anybody,” Langfitt said.
Looking back, Langfitt said Kodiak could have challenged Hawaii if it had Justin and Jake Simpson — twins who opted to play Legion ball in Kenai that summer.
Mitchell Pruitt, Curtis Catt, Dylan Langfitt, Clyde Valdez and Aaron Cooper rounded out the squad. Bryan Ellsworth — Kodiak High’s head football coach — assisted Langfitt.
Langfitt is still involved in Little League. He coaches a Junior division team when not doing outdoor activities with his wife — the couple started a three-day hike on the Ice Age Trail earlier this week.
“I had a hard time staying away from it,” he said. “This is the one thing that I can do that I enjoy and am fairly confident at ... It’s not quite like Kodiak, though.”